Albuquerque - The Good Old Days - Chapter Two

By the time 1953 rolled around, lots of things had changed. For one thing, we weren't "out in the sticks" anymore (at least we had paved streets and a corner grocery store at San Mateo and Haines.) Another thing had happened. Albuquerque made drastic changes in the way the city streets were laid out.

Okay, I don't mean they dug them all up and put them someplace else. What they did was adopt a grid system whereby the city would be split into four quarters. Previously, anything north of Central Avenue that ran perpendicular to Central was simply North (whatever the street name was). East/west streets were called East (whatever street) if they were east of the railroad tracks and West Street if they were west of the tracks. Thus, If somebody said they lived on North Girard, you knew which direction the street ran and what it's relationship to Central Avenue was (although you didn't necessarily know what side of the tracks it was located on.) By the same token, if someone's address was on East Copper, you knew it was east of the tracks but you wouldn't know whether it was north or south of Central Avenue.

The new system was set up to make lines of demarcation using Central Avenue and the railroad tracks, but at the same time. Here's how it worked. Everything south of Central and east of the railroad tracks would henceforth carry the tag of Southeast, or SE as they explained it. Everything south of Central and west of the tracks would become SW. North of Central and east of the tracks would be NE and north of Central and west of the tracks would be NW. I know, this doesn't take into account Rio Rancho, but then that wasn't really around back then.

It seemed very simple at first, but they also decided to change the names of many of the streets at the same time. For example, we lived at 1917 North Van Buren. Overnight our address became 1917 Truman St. NE. I won't even tell you how furious my father was with this new designation. He had never been a fan of President Truman, and to wake up one morning and find he was now living on a street carrying that name caused many salty words to be uttered.

Before the quad system came into being, Constitution was called East Roosevelt; Lomas Blvd. was called Las Lomas up to about Yale, at which point it became New York Avenue. Naturally, the freeway system was just a gleam in somebody's eye at that time. There were many other redesignated streets, but those are the ones that were most significant to me. Time has dimmed my memory as to exactly what other street names were affected.

Another huge change that came about in 1953 was the birth of two more television stations. I don't remember for sure which one came first because they happened pretty close to the same time, but I'm guessing it was KOAT-TV, Channel 7. Then KGGM-TV, Channel 13 came along and suddenly, we had television many more hours and we had CHOICES! Daytime TV was still a little while away, but it would come soon. Of course, each station signed off at night right after the late news. They would play the National Anthem with a flag fluttering across the screen, and then there would be a short piece showing St. Francis of Assisi kneeling and reciting this famous prayer. I can't remember all of it anymore (although at one time I could) but it included the line, "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console..." It was very lovely and there was a character actor playing the part of St. Francis who often appeared on television dramas, and his face was very familiar. For years, every time I saw him in a television show, playing a crook, or a dotty little old man, I would remember that he was really St. Francis of Assisi. After the prayer, the music would reach a crescendo and the screen would change to "snow" and you had to turn it off. Those of you who saw the movie "Poltergeist" know what happens if you leave the television running when there is nothing but "snow" on the screen!

When we moved here in 1951, this town had pitifully few restaurants, and virtually none open in the evening. There was Old Town, of course, with La Hacienda and La Placitas. Then there was one on East Central called Leonard's, and another called Hoyt's Dinner Bell. You could go there on Sunday afternoons, and some evenings. There was a small restaurant named Campbell's on Central somewhere near Carlisle. They had a patio in the back and served Fried Chicken in little individual baskets. We went there a lot during our first summer. Later on I think it became Casa Luna Pizzeria (at least I think that was the same restaurant, but after all this time, who knows for sure -- or really cares?)

Downtown had several eating places but they weren't open at night. The only real shopping was downtown, and all the office buildings of any importance were there as well. Sears was on the corner of Central and Fifth Street. They had an escalator (the first one I remember seeing) and we shopped there a lot. One night when I was in the eighth grade, I was babysitting and listening to the radio. A news flash came on saying that the Sears Roebuck Department Store downtown was on fire. I was pretty upset because I had a new bathing suit on layaway there and it went up with everything else!

Other stores along Central were Hinkles Department Store, Kistler Collister, Paris Shoe Store, Lerner's, and JC Penney, among others. In eighth grade, my friend Charlene's Mom worked at Hinkles and arranged for me and Charlene to be models in a fashion show at the store. That was the highlight of that year for me.

All the movie theaters were downtown in 1951 with the exception of the Lobo Theater on East Central, between Carlisle and Girard. The Highland Theater appeared a year or two later, along with a couple of department stores in the same complex. The Sunshine theater was on the south side of Central in the block between First and Second Streets. The State theater and the Kimo were on the north side of Central a couple of blocks west of the Sunshine. I think the El Rey was down close to Eighth Street on the south side of Central, but I never went there. I'm not aware of any drive-in theaters until about the mid-Fifties. Then we acquired the Terrace Drive-In and the Teseque Drive-In. Then there was the Cactus on South Yale, and the Duke City Drive-In appeared on Carlisle, just north of Menaul at some point when I was in high school.

Speaking of schools, I mentioned before that the only junior high in the Heights was Jefferson at Girard and Lomas. So that's where I went and became friends with so many wonderful kids. There were three high schools at that time: Albuquerque High downtown at Central and Broadway; St. Mary's was (I believe) on Sixth or Seventh Street; and Highland High just south of Central on Coal. Highland had only opened in 1949, so they were very new when we moved here. Of course is was the only high school east of the railroad tracks, so most of the kids going to Jefferson also went to Highland. My best friend, Roberta, actually lived in the district for Albuquerque High, but when the time came to leave Jefferson and move on, she, like most of the kids in her neighborhood, opted to go to Highland instead since it was this impressive new school.

When I was a junior at Highland, Valley High School opened it's doors, and the year I graduated, Sandia High opened. After that, I lost track of which new schools were opening when and where. I was vaguely aware there was a private school called Harwood Girls School somewhere in the North Valley, but I never knew where it was and didn't know anyone who went there. I don't know if it included a high school.

The Masonic Temple was downtown at the corner of Seventh Street and Central. I became a member of Jobs Daughters in ninth grade and we often had special installations and meetings there. Years later, in the late Sixties, we had attended the state-wide meeting of the Grand Bethel of Jobs Daughters at the Temple. That night, it caught on fire and burned to the ground. It was the end of an era for many of us.

The Franciscan Hotel and the Alvarado Hotel were both fixtures in the downtown area. The Franciscan was on the north side of Central but I can't remember for the life of me exactly which cross street it was on. It was probably Second or Third. The Alvarado was right beside the railroad tracks and it saw many famous people arrive on the train and stay there. Movie stars and other celebrities often arrived from the East Coast and made a stopover at the old Alvarado. It was a grand old hotel with an elegant restaurant. We all hated to see it torn down in the Sixties.

Stay tuned to see what I remember for Chapter Three!

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Comment by Paula on January 4, 2008 at 7:15pm
Very cool to hear all this. Oh... and that Pizzaria... the Casa Luna Pizzaria... wasn't that Roy's Uncle Veneglia who owned that? Or am I thinking of another place? His uncle arrived here before his dad brought them here.
Anyway... thanks for sharing the memories!!

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